The Iron Brigade

I finally made it through this book.  It is the story of one of the American Civil War’s (ACW) most famous combat units.  It follows in detail the story of the men of Company B, 19th Indiana Regiment, 1’st Brigade, 1st Div, I Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac.  Noted for its strong discipline, its unique uniform appearance, and its tenacious fighting ability, the Iron Brigade suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the war.

They were known as the “Iron Brigade” because of their ability to stand up “like iron” to the most withering attacks of (Confederate) rebel forces on many a bloody ACW battlefield: Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.  They were also known throughout the war as the “Black Hats” because they wore the black hardee hat issued to army regulars rather than the blue kepis worn by most other units.

The book tells in great detail often in the men’s own words what it was like to spend 4 years from recruitment to mustering out in an ACW infantry unit.  What I liked was the miniscule detail and anecdotal stories in the book. e.g.,

“When the regiment gained the top of the hill they were greeted by a terrible volley of musketry for a full brigade of rebel infantry. For a moment the line staggered.  The clarion voice of Lt. Col. Bachman was heard urging his men to hold the hill until reinforcements could come up.  The men rallying to his call began to fire into the dense mass of rebels in front; for 5 minutes they held the hill……In those 5 minutes one-third of the line had fallen.  Still Bachman cheered them on.  A rebel bullet struck him and he fell to rise no more.” (p186)

What I did not like about the book was the pausity of maps and illustrations to help follow the story line.

All in all it was an intriguing read for someone who follows the ACW closely.  As a member of the Ottawa Civil War Roundtable, I enjoy monthly get togethers to talk with some interesting people about ACW battles, events and the could have beens: http://www.cwrtottawa.ca/

I was initially attracted to this subject some 20+ years ago when I visited the Antietam Battlefield park in Maryland, only some 600 kms from home.  How could a liberal democracy of Christians, descend to the level of depravity and actually kill each other by the hundreds of thousands over political differences, right in our backyard?  I still ponder this question, now perhaps more than ever given the quagmire we are in at present.

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